Saturday, August 14, 2010

The thermodynamic miracle

The question in regards to human development has been ongoing and annoying for far too long. Is it nature? Is it nurture? As in most either/or debates, the most logical answer is somewhere in between.

How much of the human condition, in the form of personality and behavior, is genetic? The primary reason used to dismiss genetics as a driver of personality development is an open attack on fate. If everything is genetic, then everything is predetermined, everything is a much in place as the color of the eyes or skin.

How much of the human condition is from nurturing and conditioning? This would suggest a differing means of determination, human beings are no more than the combination of their influences.

Birth order, genetic make-up, Skinnerism.... this-ism, that-ism, ism-ism-ism...

Consider a few things, if you will...

We know, from the sad story of Thalidomide, that chemicals ingested during pregnancy can affect the physical make-up. Alcohol, tobacco, pretty much any form of chemical ingestion: the body can be changed while being made up.

We also know, from medical research, that the body changes, not only as it ages, but from external circumstance. Again, chemicals (or foods) ingested, but also circumstances; stress kills.

Two odd things, now...

One: there was an article in Psychology Today, back in the early '80's, that told of a child being born with an undetermined ailment. After much examination, it was determined that the child was born with a peptic ulcer, the type normally associated with long term stress. This was a tad difficult to explain in a newborn. Doctors began to assess the mother's life and lifestyle during the pregnancy, and discovered that the mother and father had separated shortly after she'd become pregnant. The father (or rather, donor) went a little, well... batshit insane, calling at all hours of the night, harassing the woman, throwing rocks through the windows, etc. (NOT a good role model...)

Two: on an episode of the television program CSI: the notion of the behavior of twins separated at birth was raised, and the (then) main character, "Gruesome" Grissom stated that it is no surprise about the twins. After all, he said, they see the world, literally, through the same eyes, hear with the same ears. Why is it so surprising that they would see the world the same, be attracted to the same type of person, be drawn to the same type of career?

Consider: the human body has a form of cellular memory, imprints made into the brain and body, electrochemical reactions invisible to the eye but deeply ingrained.

The human female, at birth, comes equipped with the entirety of her reproductive egg content. These eggs are present at birth, only so many to a customer, as it were. They remain a constant until menopause. These eggs, then, represent something suggested in Frank Herbert's Dune: the human female, being female, carries inside her a lasting echo of everything her life has brought her. Each new experience is added, cellular memories building, and thus, in a chemical form, attached to the egg, the pending generation.

The human male does not have sperm at birth. This is something that develops, and while the changes would be similar, the male creates billions of sperm, only to have them sent away. These seed cells are created every day, huge production but of only limited duration. It would appear that these cells are created as a form of cellular moments, created in a "now" that is ever-changing and at best temporary.

Perhaps, more than anything else, this is the primary difference between the XX (cellular memories) and the XY (cellular moments).

When in the graphic novel Watchmen, written by Alan Moore, one character speaks of the thermodynamic miracle of human life, he mentions the staggering odds of THIS woman meeting THIS man at THAT moment and somehow beating the odds and creating another human being.

Ask anyone that has had difficulty in conceiving and they will be glad to explain just how nigh impossible it is for a human female to get pregnant. Those odds are indeed staggering; the fact that there is human life at all is astonishing, but to see so many billions...

The only question you should be asking at this point is: So what?

Consider the family unit. Any family unit will do: yours, someone else's, whatever... A large family is best for these purposes. Ever wonder why one sibling is so different than the others? Not just the odd little physical quirks but those occasions when it appears that one (or more) is totally unlike the others that even the family themselves have to wonder: what the hell happened there? Everyone raised in the same house, same values, diet....

Well, how about: XX brought the past, everything up until that one moment of conception, and XY brought that moment of conception. That which was and has been and that which is combine, and at conception, each of us becomes in that instant that which shall be.

And then the process begins again...

This make more sense to me than most other theories.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Film review: 8MM (1999)

Written by Andrew Kevin Walker (after Se7en), directed by the hit or miss Joel Schumacher (Falling Down, A Time To Kill, Batman & Robin), starring Nicholas Cage, featuring Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stomare (Spun, Dancer In The Dark, The Big Lebowski) and Anthony Heald (Manhunter, The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal).

Tom Welles (Cage) is a private investigator, a quiet homebound man when not working, is hired by a Mrs. Christian to determine if an 8mm film found after her husband died is real or faked. The film is the by-now urban legendary snuff film. Off goes Welles, deeper and deeper into the pits of a most human based Hell. On his way down, he meets Max California (Phoenix), a porn shop employee who reads Truman Capote's In Cold Blood hidden behind a porn magazine. California leads Welles deeper and deeper into the under-underground porn industry, until he meets up with those who know the truth about the film, its making and its star. By the end of his journey, most of the people involved are dead, and his life is torn apart.

Schumacher's career is largely uneven, capable of creating fine bits of entertainment, but just as capable of creating the cinematic equivalent of fecal matter. 8MM is a dark, brutal examination into the notions of evil and morality. Possibly his best film (if not this, then Falling Down), it is unrelenting, allowing us as viewers to follow Welles' descent up close and personal.

Cage, also guilty of an uneven career, gives a performance that is perfect for the part. Cold, remote from his clients and his tasks at hand, a private detective that makes a name for himself delivering the goods and walking away silently. His home life is his true life (everyone leads a double life in this film), and at home he is an adoring husband and a loving father. He is also self-delusional at home, pretending to himself that his wife doesn't know when he has been smoking inside their home. This point is repeated, and to good, subtle effect: a man whose career is based on rooting out those things others want to stay hidden cannot see how his attempts to hide things away are just as meager and failing.

The script, the first film produced on a script written by Walker after his deeply disturbing Se7en, suggests that he had more dark territory to examine. One can only hope that there is something equally dark aborning in his twisted mind... or not. Where Se7en approaches the notion of the serial killer as renegade genius, 8MM gives the idea that we are all capable of levels of evil that we prefer to pretend are not possible. The idea that a snuff film (true torture porn, a pornographic depiction of an actual murder) is an urban legend is in and of itself a type of societal self-delusion.

If someone can actually make kiddie porn, is the notion of murdering someone on film for twisted sexual pleasure really be impossible? Has it actually happened? Most likely.

What really drives the script, again and again, is that notion that everyone has something they want to keep hidden, an addiction, a sexual preference, whatever... and that, for lack of a better term: Be ye sure, your sins shall find you out. The true difference between those who wish to live a life of (if only public) morality and those who are truly evil is that those who are evil simply do not care, and only keep things hidden to protect their income and keep themselves out of jail.

In fact, the film goes where few films ever go, and horror films occasionally approach but rarely examine deeply: the very nature of evil itself.

The question throughout the film begs to be asked, and Welles does, several times: why do people do these terrible, horrible things?

The answer, which only becomes more disturbing on repeated viewings, is pretty much the same: because we can. Nothing more, just that: we kill, rape and torment the flesh of our fellow humans for no other reason than... we can.

One character even goes so far to ask Welles "What did you expect? A monster?" That moment underscores everything that has gone before. Hannibal Lector is a true monster, a genius so far removed from any conception of morality that he is all but super-human (or should that be supra-human?) and we can dismiss that character as too far-fetched. In 8MM that monster is, as Walt Kelley said it best via his comic strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

There are differing levels of darkness throughout the film, what light comes in seems to become corrupt, dirty and dust filled.

Each supporting character drives the plot, causing Welles to continue, not only for the client at the beginning of the film but for the romantic notion of the Private Eye As Avenging Knight when he meets the mother of the girl for whom he is searching.